Training – Psychology: successful thinking

After rides, it's always worth analysing your feelings about why the ride turned out the way it did for you


After rides, it’s always worth analysing your feelings about why the ride turned out the way it did for you. During the buzz of a new PB in a time trial or in the frustration of being dropped in a road race, find the time and motivation to think through your perceptions of the influential factors in the performance outcome.


This analysis is revealing of your own psychological profile and is an important task if you’re to improve your performance next time.

Psychologists refer to an individual’s perception of the reasons for a particular outcome as the individual’s causal attribution. The way a cyclist attributes the cause of a performance outcome can affect the rider’s motivation and tell you much about the psychological profile of that individual.

Psychologists often categorise causal attributions as one of four types of behaviour.


An attribution based on ability suggests the rider felt the performance outcome was based on his or her own ability to perform effectively during the task. Positive outcomes attributed to ability are things such as “I felt really good today” or “I really flew up the hills”. Negative outcomes attributed to ability are things such as, “My legs felt like lead today” or “I didn’t have enough in the tank”.

As ability is a difficult thing to alter quickly, positive attributions can be highly motivating


“I’ve been training really hard for this and it paid off” is a good example of a positive effort attribution. Similarly, attributing the poor outcome to “not being aggressive enough to get in the break” can be the negative side of effort attributions. Effort can change from performance to performance, so riders need to remember that if they attribute their outcome to effort, then the next time it could be different.

Task difficulty

If the rider considers that the competition was just too good for them or the course too hilly to achieve the PB, then they’re attributing the negative outcome to task difficulty. However, if you’re attributing your success to the fact that you alone coped with how difficult the task was at the time, then this can be a positive.



Perhaps the most common attribution is luck. “It just wasn’t my day today” or “I was unlucky to miss the break” are often the refuge of the rider not prepared to face the possibility that their effort or ability wasn’t up to the task. While modesty might suggest attributing your win to luck in public is a good social strategy, don’t be fooled into not analysing what actually did get you in that position, because you need to try and repeat that performance again next time.